Revelations from Spin Class

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Most of you know that I enjoy cycling and some of you know that I started taking weekday spin classes this year to augment my otherwise thin riding schedule. Since moving to the West Coast in 1996, one of the most challenging aspects of cycling for me has been climbing. Let’s face it, 200 lb. guys from the flatlands of the Midwest simply don’t float uphill. (Watch out for us on the down-hills though!) While my climbing has certainly improved since I have lived here, it is still not my strong suit especially when it comes to long endurance climbs of twenty-to-thirty minutes plus which rule out any attempt to “power through” a climb. In these situations it’s usually the smaller, lighter cyclists who leave the bigger guys and gals behind.

The Lance Dance - image by WuerteleThe general rule for climbing is to stay seated in the saddle but there are times when the grade gets so steep that one must stand or possibly risk “running out of gears” essentially stalling the bike. (If you have been to San Francisco, think of trying to ride up some of the hills here.) Sometimes it is helpful to stand periodically to recruit different muscles from those you use when sitting to give your body a pseudo rest or possibly use those standing muscles to increase your speed and “launch an attack” on your cycling companions. This is something great riders like Lance Armstrong are known for, sometimes called the “Lance dance”, where Lance appears to be simply dancing on the pedals while accelerating uphill. Standing while climbing is something I have never been able to do. In fact, before this year, thirty seconds was about my comfort threshold for riding out of the saddle before my quads would start to burn and I would have to sit down again. Newbie cyclists might think that sitting in the saddle for a long period of time is uncomfortable — try standing for any length of time and that saddle starts to look pretty darn good.

If you have not attended one of Tyler Stewart‘s spin classes, every class basically starts and ends with an empty threat of “this class is going to be harder than the last one” and “next week the intervals are going to be longer and harder”. I say “empty” since every class has felt like a near death experience so saying that you are “almost almost almost really going to die this time” isn’t saying much to me. As such, I have simply come to ignore these warnings. Well, today was actually different. While Tyler has been slowly working up our ability to ride out of the saddle, five to ten minutes at a time, something I have been successful in replicating on the road (thanks, Tyler!), today she announced that we would be spending thirty consecutive minutes riding at intensity out of the saddle. That got my attention — this could indeed be the class that finishes me off. As expected, the first ten minutes went by OK; we have trained for this much, no problem. It really started to get interesting after that. Not only did we break through the ten minute mental barrier but we also continued to add resistance (“gears”) and cadence as time went on. I thought for sure that I would collapse and I did falter once at about the twenty minute mark but I, as well as most of the regulars in the class, were able to say out of the saddle the entire time! Wow.

I started riding seriously around 1989 but have never done anything like this before. Thanks, Tyler, for pushing us. In a small way, spin class today has challenged me to rethink what is possible — on a bike, in training, and otherwise. What a great lesson.

[tags]spin,climb,lance,armstrong,tyler+stewart,cycling,mcnitt [/tags]